We’ve all experienced it. Something foul lurking in the depths of our fridge. How do you fix a smelly fridge?

It makes sense that if you put something in the fridge it will last forever. This is what refrigeration is all about, right?

Well, no… that’s not exactly how it works.

Unfortunately, the laws of refrigeration are often something we learn through trial and very smelly error.

Refrigeration can substantially reduce the rate at which food will deteriorate. Low temperatures slow down the growth of microorganisms and the rate of chemical (including enzymic) changes in food. These are two of the main causes of food spoilage.

Between 5 and 60 degrees is the danger zone for food. This is the range in which microbiological growth can occur quickly. Once it’s taken hold only extreme heat or cold stop the growth of microorganisms.

Foods spoil if they undergo a chemical or physical change. Chemical changes include ripening, maturing or oxidising. Microbial microorganisms, or bacteria and moulds, spoil food by eating the cell structure and then increasing in number. Think of how sliced ham gets slimy when it’s been in the fridge too long. Some microorganisms are bad not only because they spoil the smell, texture and nutritional value of food, but also because they are poisonous.

Raw foods can be especially risky. Some bacteria can be fatal to certain people. For the rest of us it can mean – at the very least – a few days on the toilet.

What is in your fridge?

Beer, wine and most bottled items are pretty much stable in the fridge – just keep an eye on the use by date. Perishable food including fruit and vegetables, dairy, fresh meat, seafood and freshly cooked food, stored to be eaten later, are another kettle of fish.

How to store your food

Let’s start this story at the grocery store. Buy only the best quality food if you plan to store it for any length of time.

Don’t buy swollen chilled food packages. The contents are going off. Chilled juices, unprocessed cheeses, yoghurt and fresh pastas all contain harmless spoilage microbes when packaged. Such swelling is a sign that microbes have been allowed to grow and produce gas. This usually means the products have been stored for some time at warm temperatures or that they are near the end of their shelf life. 

Always conduct an old fashion sight test before you buy something – if the food doesn’t look good in the shop, its probably not going to be healthy to eat. 

[Related: How to store vegetables]

How you treat your food when you get home matters

Different parts of your refrigerator operate at different temperatures.

If you have a fridge with advanced temperature controls, it’s possible to ensure different parts of the fridge are perfectly set to reduce smells and keep produce fresh. However, in older style refrigerators you’ll simply need to work on the premise that the upper shelves will often be slightly colder than the lower shelves.

Raw meat, poultry and seafoods should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Wrapped fresh meat can be kept safely for up to 3 days. Unwrapped fresh meat up to 5 days at cold temperatures, between 0-3 degrees.

Wrapped meat remains moist and maintains its quality, but surface growth of microorganisms is encouraged and the meat becomes slimy after about three days. If you notice an off odour, the best thing to do is throw the food out.

Surprisingly, unwrapped meat lasts longer than wrapped meat. When meat is stored unwrapped, the exposed surface dries out. This drying hinders microbial growth, and can be beneficial if you’re planning to cook the perfect steak however, over-drying can also cause undesirable colour changes and loss of flavour.

Before storing chilled chicken for a couple of days, it is a good idea to remove the plastic wrapping, wash the chicken thoroughly, and dry it with a paper towel.

Lastly, be aware Fido (or Fifi’s) meal should not be placed near human food in the fridge. Meat designated as ‘pet food’ should never come into direct contact with meat for human consumption as it may have been produced under less hygienic conditions, and may contain harmful parasites or bacteria.

Helping your fridge to do its job

There is an etiquette to loading up your fridge. Not only will you be able to see what you have, but items may last longer and cross contamination will be kept to a minimum.

Leave room around the edge of the inside of the fridge, this enables cool air to circulate and the fridge to do its job.

Deli meats should be treated as fresh meat and not come into contact with fresh meat. Fruit and vegetables should be handled carefully to avoid bruising and breaking the skin. Such damage will encourage deterioration and rotting.

Most of us know that in the warmer months it’s a good idea to turn the temperature on your fridge down a bit to compensate for the warmer air coming in, and vice versa in winter.

Safe keeping leftovers

Meat, poultry and seafoods must be refrigerated as soon as possible after cooking. Do not leave them on the bench top to cool before placing them in the refrigerator. The warmth of the food will encourage growth of any microbes, which may get onto the meat from your hands or utensils.

Modern refrigerators can cope with small amounts of hot foods being placed directly into them. However, to avoid excessive condensation in the refrigerator, a brief cooling period – not more than one hour – prior to refrigeration is preferred.

Store cooked products above any raw meat, poultry or seafoods to avoid cross contamination from raw meat liquid.

#HisenseHack: Store food you want to keep for a long time, or items like seafood that are quite susceptible to spoilage, in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Check out the Hisense 701L French Door Fridge with a customisable third drawer which will help you keep everything fresh!

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